Tadej Pogacar ended his season in the "best possible way" after the UAE Team Emirates rider retained his Il Lombardia title on Saturday as cycling greats Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde both ended their careers in the final monument race of the year.
Slovenian Pogacar held off Enric Mas in a two-man duel to the line after a 253-kilometre run between Bergamo and Como to gain revenge for his recent loss to the Spaniard in the Giro dell'Emilia.
Bahrain Victorious rider Mikel Landa completed the podium after failing to keep pace with the leading pair, who went after each other aggressively in an entertaining finale.
The win was the two-time Tour de France champion's seventh major win of the season and closed off a campaign which Pogacar described as "almost perfect".
“It was great to get back to racing Il Lombardia and get another victory, right in the last race of the season," Pogacar said. "I can’t even express how grateful I am to all my teammates for the fantastic support they gave me. The race developed exactly the way we wanted, I had in mind to attack on the Civiglio and so I did.
"Mas proved to be in great shape and he followed me to the finish line. We tried to cooperate and then play for the win in the sprint.
"Fortunately, the result of the duel was different from that of the Giro dell’Emilia, and I was able to win. It’s been a great season for me and it’s ended in the best possible way.”
There was no dream finish for Nibali, one of just seven riders to have won all three of cycling's Grand Tours and also a two-time winner of Il Lombardia. The "Shark of Messina" finished in 24th place after falling by the wayside on the Civiglo climb towards the end of the race.
Valverde closed out a career which brought one Grand Tour – the 2009 Vuelta a Espana – and a host of one-day titles including the 2018 world championship with a sixth place finish, over a minute behind Pogacar.
The race favourites were all content to stay in the peloton as an early break left 10 riders over two minutes ahead of the main pack heading into the final 100 kilometres.
That gap was closed by the time the riders approached the 8.6km climb to Madonna del Ghisalo, one of four ascents in the final 60km of the race.
Pogacar's UAE Team Emirates emerged the strongest, out in front heading towards the circuit of three climbs which took the peloton into the scenic lakeside finale in Como.
Pogacar had four men working for him the first time up and over San Fermo della Battaglia and into Civiglo, the end of a 4.2km ascent which maxed out at a 14 percent gradient.
That climb seemed to do it for Nibali, who began to fall back just before Pogacar made his burst with 19km remaining, the Slovenian accompanied by Mas and Landa who hung on to their tails as the main chasers fell 40 seconds back on the descent.
"I basically enjoyed the race and the crowd but my legs took me as far as they could," said Astana rider Nibali. "I've dealt with my emotions throughout the year... leaving aside the result today I'm happy because to win here or even do well you really need to be at your best. I have no regrets, I enjoyed the crowd all the way through the race."
Jonas Vingegaard, who beat Pogacar to the Tour de France this year, also gave up the ghost in the face of Pogacar's attack.
The trio headed into the second and final climb up San Fermo della Battaglia where the peloton were left behind, and then Mas attacked.
Pogacar stayed with the peloton, prevailing in the final sprint to the line, confirming his domination of cycling.